Words: Stephen Gibson
Pics: Gilbert Bara, James Gillespie
Stephen Gibson is a long time windsurfer who moved to sunnier climes back in the 90s. Now a permanent fixture of Fuerteventura’s windsurfing scene SG still rips and enjoys the sport as much as ever. We tapped Gibbo up for a natter to see how things are these days.
I started windsurfing back in 1981 on a semi-frozen diminutive lake in the north of England, and since that very first moment when I saw those little ripples appear at the nose of the board I have always been hooked. I guess windsurfing is a sport which is incredibly addictive due to the fact that it’s always changing, always a challenge and one can never achieve perfection. I love the fact that it’s so difficult.
Posted by Stephen Gibson on Wednesday, 17 January 2018
My permanent move to Fuerteventura was a bit of an accident really. I left England in ‘95 to come to the Canaries to train for six months to prepare myself for the British Wavesailing Championships in Tiree and when those six months had run their course I simply never went back. Why would I? I was living the dream. 24 years old, every day on the beach, wandering around in boardies and no shoes and windsurfing every day. Why would I want to come back to England? 22 years on and it’s still a dream. Before I left the UK I used to love our annual jaunts to Tiree and to me Fuerteventura is the same – windy, with a beach for every wind direction and super laid-back. But without winter jackets. I’ve ended up in tropical Tiree, haha.
Even after all these years of sailing hard every day I still get a rush from a good session. Jumping is my favourite discipline and on a good, windy day with any type of ramp I still have that ‘one more run’ thought about 50 times over, as we all do. Getting to work on time has been a real issue for me over the past 22 years!
I love learning manoeuvres. As a youngster I was heavily into BMX and I think it probably stems from that. I enjoy breaking down moves into their separate components and then learning them step by step, it’s the greatest buzz in the world when you bust out that new trick for the first time after a thousand (and more) fails, nothing can beat that feeling. I guess this has helped me with my coaching as I find it quite easy to explain technique to people, having already dismantled the move for myself. Before I came to Fuerte I competed on the British circuit in slalom, course racing and waves and loved them all, but I always enjoyed a good day on my wave board more than anything and that’s why I ended up where I did.
I’ve had so many great sessions over the years here that it’s difficult to name one in particular as my best. The day I landed my first forward at Flag Beach, first flaka (after almost 14 months of crashing head first into my mast) or some of my sessions sailing the amazing wave at Lobos, a little island just off the coast of Fuerte with a perfect little reef break which works a couple of times a year if we’re lucky. But I would say my most memorable day was when I won the wild card for the PWA Fuerteventura freestyle, coming from last place on the first day (I had to leave before the second round to get back up north to my job in a hotel), to win four complete rounds on the last day (day off), not losing one single heat. That was some party when I got back to my friends in Corralejo!
Everyone can go through phases when they’re less motivated than others, and I’m no exception. Normally for me it happens after a long stint of bad conditions or an injury. I quite easily get absorbed in other activities when not sailing and can sometimes find myself a little disinterested when the opportunity presents itself again. It only takes one good session to get rid of my apathy though, sometimes only one run. I think the secret is to wait until a good day appears, don’t stress about getting back out there in whatever conditions come along as this can actually have the reverse effect sometimes – sail with zero expectations.
I managed to go a good few years with only minor injuries (ah, the glory of youth), but over the past six or seven years they’ve been mounting up, perhaps unsurprisingly. Broken toes, broken fingers, broken teeth, torn ligaments, dislocated shoulder and four years ago a broken hip resulting in a hip replacement. Recently, after months of back problems, I found out I have four prolapsed discs in my lower back, which is going to be a little problematic I think. I have been out of action for most of the year really, having just returned to the water a couple of weeks ago. I’m having to supplement my sailing with core strengthening exercises and stretching, and it looks like this will form part of my daily regime forever now if I want to carry on sailing at a decent level. I’ve always hated yoga and even more so gyms but it would appear that they will now turn out to be ‘lifesavers’ for me. If I had to do it all again though, I would do it all the same except for the fact that I would probably listen more to all the physios who have treated me over the years and warned me that this day would come if I didn’t start stretching and strengthening my core. Maybe a word of warning for all you thirty-something rippers out there who are still in the invincibility zone which I thought would last forever. Hindsight is a wonderful gift.
As a language teacher over here, working with kids, I have the luxury of sharing the same holidays as the locals, literally translated as 13 weeks in summer. Which just happens to be the windiest season. Purely coincidental of course! I run most of my clinics during this period as the winds are most consistent and, obviously, I’m not at work. Due to the conditions I concentrate mainly on intermediate and above in my clinics, whether it be gybing, tacking, general sea sailing or introduction to waves. You just need to able to plane in the straps and there’s a beach for you in Fuerte. Definitely my favourite clinic is teaching forwards though. It’s such a huge mental barrier to most people that it’s a massive buzz for me when I help them actually achieve it. I love it. I actually came up with the Fuerte Windsurf Clinics idea while I was laid up with my hip injury and wasn’t sure if I would be able to sail properly again. I thought it would be a great way to carry on sailing without overly punishing my body trying to keep up with the pesky kids, meet people and also impart some of the knowledge I had accumulated over my many years in the sport. In the end, I carried on punishing my body while running the clinics, hahaha! They’ve been a huge success and I’ve met so many great people through the clinics and surfaris, some of whom have become some of my best amigos.
As a team rider for Fanatic/North I am currently sailing all new kit for the 2018 season. Actually I have held onto my Fanatic 2017 90L Quad TE, which I love, because I only used it three times due to last year’s injury shenanigans. That’s my small board for up here as we generally sail on 4.5, 5.0/ 5.3, which also just happens to be my quiver of North Superheros for the coming season. I recently received my 2018 Fanatic 99L Stubby TE which is absolutely amazing! Previously I always had a freestyle board as my big board as they were so quick to plane and user-friendly in bump n jump conditions (even down-the-line wave sailing scenarios saw them get use). But the Stubby is the board I’ve been looking for all these years, combining early planing characteristics of the freestyle boards with the responsiveness and slashy turns of a waveboard – kind of what we tried to achieve with the freestyle wave boards years ago but far better. I also replace my stock fins with Maui Ultra Fins on all my boards, thereby notably increasing the planing performance and manoeuvrability. I didn’t really believe the hype about these fins until a friend let me try some of his and I was instantly convinced. If you get the opportunity, try some.
I’m in a very fortunate situation with my present sponsors where I basically have the best kit on the market and all I have to do is go sailing. I don’t have any pressure to compete unlike some of my peers over here, and as long as I’m on the beach, doing clinics, chatting to people then they’re happy. I’ve sailed some rubbish over the years – stuff that breaks, shapes that don’t work but I’ve finally found kit that I love sailing with and that’s exactly what I’m doing.
We have a good group of sailors over here and the level is pretty high, more so in riding than in jumping as we tend to get better waveriding and more diversity than the other Canary Islands. We all get on pretty well, wherever we’re from, and try to keep the xenophobic ribbing down to a minimum on our WhatsApp groups, although it can get out of hand during international sporting events like the World Cup. And in particular during penalty shoot-outs. My sailing buddies over here are Will Ward and Corky Kirkham, mainly because not only are they incredibly talented wavesailors but they’re both a bit gung-ho and good laughs are guaranteed when they’re around.
I’d like to thank all my amazing sponsors for the support over the years and especially so more recently, during my injury-strewn period. Nik Baker has been awesome. We used to compete against each other in the British Youth Championships way back in the day and he has looked after both myself and my partner Lucy Robson from day dot enabling us both to carry on ‘living the dream’. Thanks Nik! Also Timm from Maui Ultra Fins for providing me with board-changing fin technology. But ,most importantly, I’d like to thank my dad, not only for introducing me to the sport which was destined to shape my life on that freezing northern lake all those years ago, but also for passing on his enthusiasm and passion for all things sport-related and helping me prioritise my life back in 1995 and nudge me onto the path I chose. I suppose I could also blame him for all the injuries I sustained along the way but I’m not the type of guy who holds grudges – love you pops!